Waking Ideas Publishing - Culture & Critics Corner
Written By Danny Nicolas
Cory Doctorow's novel Pirate Cinema continues the trend that started with his book Little Brother. Although this is not a sequel, it definitely has a familiar reach.
Trent McCauley is sixteen, brilliant, and obsessed with one thing: making movies on his computer by reassembling footage from popular films he downloads from the net. In the dystopian near-future Britain where Trent is growing up, this is more illegal than ever; the punishment for being caught three times is that your entire household’s access to the internet is cut off for a year, with no appeal.
Trent's too clever for that too happen. Except it does, and it nearly destroys his family. Shamed and shattered, Trent runs away to London, where he slowly he learns the ways of staying alive on the streets. This brings him in touch with a demimonde of artists and activists who are trying to fight a new bill that will criminalize even more harmless internet creativity, making felons of millions of British citizens at a stroke.
I found the most interesting part of the book not the overt political activism, but the window into the culture that exists outside the traditional images of homelessness and poverty. Trent doesn't stay on the streets very long. He quickly discovers the wonders of squatting. With the help of a few friends, he fixes up one of the many abandoned, dilapidated, foreclosed buildings and it soon becomes the base of operations for the artists that star as the main characters. Even when the police chase them out the first time, he becomes more determined to make it his new home. The second time around he and his friends are more careful. Eventually, they make a bargain with the new owners of the building that allows them to continue living there and keep the building in good condition in exchange for the agreement that they'd leave peacefully when the building sold at some point in the future when the commercial real estate markets improved.
Trent and his friends mostly live off the wastefulness of others. They find their food in trash dumpsters, cans and boxes full of perfectly good food thrown own by supermarkets and stores. They're not living meal to meal, barely scraping by on the cash handouts of the wealthy. They're not even skimming off the top. They're living like middle class by recycling the useful things wealthy people throw away not for health reasons, but legal ones. When the law gets in the way of logic, there's bound to be at least a few people that take advantage of that opportunity.
The worst part about Pirate Cinema is that it isn't set in a "dystopian near-future" as the publisher's description of the book suggests. The political environment that exists in this book is the very same one that exists today. The only difference between the real world and in Cory Doctorow's book, is that the ending for the political activists is positive. Through their guerrilla marketing and promotional efforts, they're able to put pressure on their politicians and change the law. The legal case brought by the film companies against Trent is resolved for pennies thanks to a reasonable Judge. That's more of a utopian fantasy than a dystopian future.
In the real world, the efforts of political activists merely delay congress and the president from enacting draconian laws. In the real world, political activists are charged with felonies, incur million dollar debts trying to fight a system stacked against them, and in case of Aaron Swartz, are found dead. In the real world, if you participate in a protest against the one of the powerful industries, the government steps up to take the job of kettling, beating, gassing, and arresting you. The dystopian future is now.
Published on Saturday, March 2nd, 2013 at 5:33 am | Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.